Square, the merchant business of digital payments company Block, is working to expand its restaurant offerings upmarket, targeting higher-revenue restaurants in new sectors. Its new general manager for restaurants, Ming-Tai Huh, is a key part of that effort.
Huh announced his new role at Square in a LinkedIn post on Wednesday. He has spent more than a decade at Cambridge Street Hospitality Group, a six-restaurant company in Boston, and the experience has given him considerable insight into the business side of restaurant management, he said.
“My role was really back office: Payroll, cashflow management, capital management, managing landlords, commercial build outs, all of the behind the scenes of what it takes to run a restaurant,” Huh said.
He will remain with Cambridge Street, as he did while working at Toast in product management. Now, Huh and Square are looking to strengthen Square’s offerings for larger restaurants and chains, including the launch of a franchise management suite earlier this year.
“We are accelerating our innovation to serve businesses that are larger, that do more volume,” Huh said. “We’re pretty well established in the market where sellers are just starting out and getting off the ground.”
In the run-up to his job announcement, Huh spoke about what he brings to the role and the challenges facing restaurants.
“It’s amazing, how many lines are on the P&L of a restaurant,” Huh said. “And what little is left over.”
In recent years, tech solutions have cropped up for many of those lines on the P&L, promising everything from improved compliance to better employee communications. Square itself is a major player in this field, and is looking to offer more products to operators, Huh said. He wants to use Square’s scale to help mitigate uncertainty related to the macroeconomic environment.
“Uncertainty is really difficult to plan around,” Huh said. “Do you open that next location? Do you not open that next location? How do you prepare yourself to have a recession-proof product?”
While inflation has slowed recently, Huh said, the cost of goods remains a challenge for many restaurants.
The biggest problems Square is working to solve for restaurateurs include order management and labor retention, he said.
“Five years ago, a restaurant might only have one way that they would process an order,” Huh said. “Today, it's very different with the presence of orders from multiple third parties, or your first-party channels, like a QR code channel, and other digital channels.”
Square’s Kitchen Display system is capable of integrating orders from a variety of front-of-house sources into a single display in the back of house, he said.
Employment has largely returned to pre-pandemic numbers, but turnover is still a serious issue. Huh says Square’s new team communication feature, which lets businesses contact employees more directly, can reduce friction with workers by streamlining communication with management.
Huh says his role is to “make that easier for [restaurateurs] to do the thing that they really care about and that they love, and not have to worry about all the minutiae of, ‘Do I have enough money in the bank account to pay the taxes?’”